≈ 90 minutes · With intermission
Last updated: September 21, 2022
ANNA THORVALDSDÓTTIR Spectra for violin, viola, and cello
BRIAN NABORS Zephyr for two flutes and string quartet
KRISTINE TJØGERSEN Spiracle for brass quintet
SCHAFER String Quartet No. 2, “Waves”
Tonight’s Wolfgang Session, part of this season’s SPHERE Festival, is a walk on the wild side featuring contemporary works inspired by natural phenomena. In each of the four works on this program, composers creatively employ techniques that require the performing musicians to go beyond the traditional ways of playing their instruments. This is the music of nature like you’ve never heard it before!
During the late 1960s and 1970s, Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer established an educational and research group called the World Soundscape Project at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University. Borne out of his deep concern about the harmful effects of technological sound on humans, i.e, noise pollution, particularly in urban environments, the project initiated the field of acoustic ecology—the study of the relationship between humans and their environment as mediated through sound. In 1976, Schafer completed his first work to integrate his soundscape research with his creative endeavours as a composer: his second string quartet, “Waves”.
In his program note to the piece, he describes how his analysis of ocean waves on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada shaped the composition:
The recurrent pattern of waves is always asymmetrical, but we have noted that the duration from crest to crest usually falls between 6 and 11 seconds. Few ocean waves are of longer or shorter duration than this. It is this wave motion that gives the quartet its rhythm and structure. The listener will hear the dynamic undulations of waves in this piece, and as it develops several types of wave motion are combined. I have sought to give the quartet a liquid quality in which everything is constantly dissolving and flowing into everything else. That is to say, the material of the work is not fixed, but is perpetually changing, and even though certain motivic figures are used repeatedly, they undergo continual dynamic, rhythmic, and tempo variation.
To enhance the fluidity of the music, Schafer allows the musicians some artistic freedom to execute their parts, as indicated by a timeline underneath the score that suggests when the musical motifs are to be played. Overall, the piece might be described as a meditation on the many sounds of water—from calm, soothing burbles to droplet sprays to the surging, pounding waves. In his 1977 landmark book The Tuning of the World in which he summarized his ideas and theories about soundscape, Schafer considered water to be “the fundamental of the original soundscape and the sound which above all gives us the most delight in its myriad transformations.” He noted that “the mind must be slowed to catch these millions of transformations of the water, on sand, on shale, against driftwood, against the seawall.”
Schafer’s work in soundscape also influenced his interest in the spatial distribution of musicians during live performance to create certain effects. Near the quartet’s conclusion, he instructs the first violinist, then second violinist, then violist to get up and slowly leave the stage in different directions “as if in a trance”, taking their murmuring figures into the distance. In the last moments, the cellist is given the optional instruction to pick up a spyglass and, “in a very deliberate and controlled manner”, look to where the other musicians have gone and pan slowly across the audience. After this action, the cellist plays the final chord, and fades out gradually on an E-flat note.
Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD
Canadian violinist Emily Westell has established herself as a versatile musician. Since her debut as soloist with the Calgary Philharmonic at age 15, she has performed as soloist and conductor with the Orchestre de chambre de Paris, and has played concerti with the Tanglewood, Banff Festival, and University of Calgary Orchestras. A winner of the 2012 Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank Competition (loan of the 1717 Windsor-Weinstein Stradivari), she was awarded the 2013 “Astral Artist Prize” from Canada’s National Arts Centre. Westell has performed chamber music and solo recitals in Paris (Cité de la Musique), New York (Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall), Boston (Jordan Hall), and the Netherlands (International Holland Music Sessions). Her concerts have been broadcast on CBC and Radio-Canada.
Westell has performed at the festivals of Prussia Cove, Norfolk, Spoleto USA, Orford, Meadowmount, and Lanaudiere. An advocate for new music, Westell has performed with the Harvard Group for New Music, Columbia Composers, Boston’s Callithumpian Consort, and on the Land’s End Chamber Ensemble CD, Rollin’ Down #1, winner of the Western Canada Music Award for “Outstanding Classical Album.” She is a former instructor of violin and chamber music at McGill University.
Westell recently completed post-doctoral Professional Studies with Pinchas Zukerman in the Manhattan School of Music’s prestigious Zukerman Performance Program on a President’s Award. Her previous teachers include Edmond Agopian, Miriam Fried, and Jonathan Crow. Westell holds a Doctor of Music degree from McGill University (where she was a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow), a Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory and the Fine Arts gold medal from the University of Calgary, for the top graduate.
SPHERE is presented as part of Nordic Bridges, a year-long cultural initiative led by Harbourfront Centre in Toronto and supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers. Visit NordicBridges.ca to learn more.